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how to email your professor

29 January 2012

This week I don’t have time for a longer post in the spring semester study tips series, so I thought instead I would borrow from a related and useful post written by Chris Blattman entitled, “Students: How to email to your Professor, employer, and professional peers.” Here is a teaser:

4. Capitalize and punctuate. otherwise we will lol at yr sad attempts

To his list, I would add: sign with your full name. Not all email addresses come into our inboxes with your name (sometimes with just your email address listed), and if you don’t tell us who you are while also breaking Blattman Rule #1 (keeping the hot_muffin92@hotmail.com email address you got in high school), we will have a hard time figuring out who you are.

Finally, don’t rely only on email to communicate with your professor. Questions that you expect other students might be asking could be posted to a course’s online discussion forum (you’re providing a public good by asking it there). And, some things are best asked in person. That’s why next week’s post is going to discuss “how to go to office hours.” If you have any additional advice on emailing profs (or on next week’s post on office hours), please leave them in the comments.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. 30 January 2012 10:56 am

    Helpful tips. I can’t believe students would email professors using grammatically incorrect sentences, though. And saying “lol” is simply… unacceptable, wow. Can’t believe people actually do this…

    I was always really intimidated by most professors in undergrad. Always was a bit afraid to talk to them in person for fear I’d say something stupid, or not fully understand some concept covered in class, etc. Of course, I felt comfortable with a few professors, but not so with the vast majority. Now I’m done with undergrad, but I fear the same thing will happen to me in grad school. Any tips on that?

    • 1 February 2012 8:20 pm

      AK – for the record, even professors say things that are stupid. Some of us remember that when we’re talking to someone who has questions about something in which we have expertise. But, in full disclosure: many of us forget.

      Having said that, I think it’s actually good to say something that is wrong and be corrected. I believe in the research that shows getting things wrong (or failing at something) teaches us in a way that always being right doesn’t. We remember our failures better and resolve to not make the same mistake again.

      So, go and introduce yourself and ask questions or make comments, knowing that some of the time you’re on target and other times you’ll be wrong but you’ll learn.

  2. 12 February 2013 5:36 pm

    I am always very professional in the emails I send to my professors (I hope) but one of my professors is really friendly and sends informal/funny emails. Would it be appropriate to say ‘haha’ in one of my emails to her? I don’t want to appear too stiff/formal when her emails are so friendly/warm.

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